It was only a few years ago that in Hollywood a baby was a hotter accessory than an Hermes handbag.
After all a baby bump practically guarantees column inches when pictured on the red carpet. Celebs were inclined to splash their families across social media to feed the insatiable appetite for gossip from their private lives, further monetizing their brand in the process.
The phenomenon has evolved from Demi Moore’s naked, pregnant and highly controversial 1991 Vanity Fair cover—which kicked off the trend for expectant celebs to make headlines by unabashedly depict themselves as mothers, sex symbols and a publicity powerhouses—to the seemingly unending stream of Kardashian clan post- pregnant sexy selfies or fashion week outfits for their toddlers.
But something has shifted in the last year or so in Hollywood. An increasing number of power couples are opting out of the parenting publicity circus and staying very silent about their pregnancies and the birth of their children.
Take Bradley Cooper and Irina Shayk. All sorts of rumors have flown around the American Sniper star over the years. But People magazine—the holy bible for celebrity pregnancy announcements because so often sources (aka the stars’ agents) go first to them with the news—reported in November that Cooper and Shayk were infanticipating.
She has subsequently been pictured appearing to have a growing midsection but there has been radio silence from the pair in the six weeks that have elapsed since the reports. Given People‘s track record and the pictorial evidence, I’m betting Irina will end 2017 being a mother. Whether she’ll have said anything about it publicly is another story.
The rest of us might be sharing more visuals and information about our families than ever before but from Eva Mendes and Ryan Gosling to Scarlett Johansson and Romain Dauriac, A-listers are increasingly refusing to confirm seismic developments in their private lives.
Ah, I can hear you sigh, ‘Hasn’t this always been the case?’ Actually, no it hasn’t. In 2006, Katie Holmes, Angelina Jolie and Gwen Stefani (or their publicists) all confirmed they were expecting.
None of them behaved like Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds recently did. Lively alluded to the fact that she was pregnant with a mysterious photo posted exclusively on her personal ‘lifestyle’ website Preserve, which set gossip columns in a spin. Straight afterwards the family’s press team closed ranks. Page Six reported that Lively’s rep “repeatedly declined to comment, claiming the actress and Reynolds could not be reached.”
They then kept the name of their second daughter secret for two months, only revealing it last December (it was Ines, FYI).
In the latest installment of this cat-and-mouse game between Hollywood media and the red carpet regulars, Blake and Ryan last week strategically ‘debuted’ their babies at the unveiling of Reynolds’ new star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony.
Was this a question of trying to hold onto their privacy in an increasingly public world, or are they carefully creating a commercially favorable aura of ambiguity around their high-profile family status?
The stars might be on social media, but their reps are more reticent and playing the game of confirming or denying less than they ever did before.
Fake news? There’s barely any news from the Hollywood elite—look at how the rumors this week about George and Amal Clooney remain resolutely unanswered.
British model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley is another celeb currently keen to keep the media guessing, appearing with strategically placed handbags and tummy-covering trench coats. while rumors about her pregnancy with actor Jason Statham gain pace on the Internet.
She was photographed this week (on her way in to an important meeting with the fashion brand she reps, obviously) wrapped in a figure-covering coat, shortly after posting a mysterious pic on Instagram of her swaddled in a poncho.
As the ‘is-she-or-isn’t-she’ baby speculation reaches fever pitch, so her personal brand rises with it. Privacy? No, call me cynical but the way I see it these stars are courting publicity. Mystique equals more money.
Back in the ‘golden days’ of Hollywood, babies were only kept out of the spotlight if they were the result of a scandalous conception. In 1950 Ingrid Bergman was forced to flee to Europe with her love child after an affair on the set of Stromboli with director Roberto Rossellini left the immaculate actress illegitimately pregnant.
TV hosts such as Ed Sullivan refused to allow Bergman to appear on their shows, Stromboli tanked at the box office, and Bergman’s career was almost wrecked. She was condemned in the Senate by Edwin C. Johnson, who branded her ”a powerful influence for evil” and recommended that celebrities be given licenses that could be revoked if they didn’t meet good moral standards in their private lives.
David Giles, author of Media Psychology, explained to Heat Street why we are so socially invested in stars’ parenting choices, referring to the concept of “parasocial relationships.” He explained: “These are the attachments we have to media figures that we don’t actually know, because we see them so often.
“Celebrities’ children function in a kind of moral/instructional sense—we make judgments about parenting skills and choices in exactly the same way as we would about the children we ‘really’ know. Some refer to celebrity gossip as ‘safe gossip’— celebrities are moral lightning conductors for airing views.”
Perhaps the retention of her status as ‘moral lightening conductor’ is something pop-star and TV host Cheryl Cole and her One Direction boyfriend Liam Payne (10 years her junior) are currently considering when covering up her alleged pregnancy, which has been exhaustively chronicled by the UK tabloids. Rumors are swirling that they are waiting until he puts a ring on it to make an announcement for fear of denting his squeaky clean teeny-bopper image.
The idea of a picture-perfect A-list pregnancy was notoriously crushed by Beyonce when her bump apparently deflated on live TV, sparking rumors that she had employed a surrogate to carry the baby for her and was faking the pregnancy (a rumor that was not helped by her reticence to be filmed when pregnant).
As well as the commerce factor, it’s not unreasonable to think that between movie commitments, photoshoots and worryingly low body fat percentages, some celebs stay silent about their pregnancy because their schedules and bodies won’t allow them to actually bear a baby themselves. Therefore a secret surrogate is employed.
The idea that a pregnancy could compromise a women’s professional identity is nothing new. As Giles explains, it common that “magazines send a photographer around to discuss feeding strategies when all the mother wants to do is plug her latest single or film.”
Anthony Lane, the New Yorker movie critic, had fun in this regard. Interviewing a silently pregnant Scarlett Johansson, he wrote: “The prospect of a baby is generally viewed as a blessing, but when I met with Johansson a few days later, in a suite at the Waldorf-Astoria, I was under stringent instructions not to mention the good news.
“A friend of mine, ungallantly but correctly, called it the elephant in the womb. I had to suppress any natural urge to offer congratulations, let alone polite inquiries into the due date or the sex of the child. Throughout the conversation, a member of Johansson’s team sat in the corner, just in case I suddenly leaped to my feet, lunged toward the expectant mother with a bottle of gel, and tried to give her an ultrasound.”
There are some signs that the trend is also popping up outside of Hollywood. Feminist author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie recently surprised her followers by mentioning during an interview with the Financial Times that she was breast-feeding. Many had no idea she was even a mother.
“I have some friends who probably don’t know I was pregnant or that I had a baby,” Chimamanda explained, adding she kept the pregnancy a secret to make a political statement: “We live in an age when women are supposed to perform pregnancy.”
Many women found her comments to be a breath of fresh air, not least because the less hoopla surrounding celebrity babies the less mere civilians like you and me are expected to replicate their extravagant child-rearing rituals.
Whatever their motives, if an A-List actress can skip the social media announcement, gender reveal party, baby shower, baby-moon, newborn photoshoot and post-baby-body reveal, so can I.
My uterus, at least, is breathing a sigh of relief.